Running in conjunction with the “breakfast diaries”, I have also decided to road-test some early bird menus over the coming weeks. It’s hard to beat a good auld “early-bird”, isn’t it? A full 3-course splurge is that bit easier to justify when there is a “value” tag attached. It’s like food’s version of the January sales.
Also it seems that since the demise of the Celtic Tiger and the consumption of a dose of reality for most modest earners, time restrictions mostly only pertain to busy Friday and Saturday nights. So from Sunday to Thursday you need not be early at all. Nope, you can peck and pick like a morning lark all evening long, with your bill blissfully unaffected by the ticking clock.
But given that I chose to eat in Thyme, Athlone on a Friday night, time was a critical component – be there by 6.30pm or you were on the Al La Carte. And that would kind of defeat the purpose. So we arrived early and were seated comfortably a little after 6pm.
Choice can sometimes be the issue with an Early Bird, and surely I can’t be the only one who finds myself occasionally staring longingly at the full menu, berating my own miserliness. But not so with Thyme. The starters and desserts in fact differ very little from the selections presented to later diners. And even with the mains, I sense it is words more than dishes that distinguish the menus (of course without the specials). And I can live without the superfluous descriptors for the lamb if it saves me a few bob!!!! Because let me tell you, Thyme’s menu displays some very eloquent penmanship – it may even be accused of verging on the verbose. Personally, I am torn between loving that the supporting ingredients get such a poetic billing and wondering if things were just a little more pithy might they also be just a little clearer.
Thyme is on the fine dining end of the spectrum, which makes early dining even more appealing and at €30 for three courses it does represent value.
For starters we both opted for the very Instagram friendly, and infinitely popular, Ham Hock with Crispy Free Range Hen’s Egg. It looks sensational, was perfectly cooked and the quality of both the tender ham and the soft boiled egg shone through clearly. I ordered this despite the fact that I don’t like runny eggs or the texture of “falling off the bone” meat but still found it a very pleasant dish. If you like both those things, you will love it, as many have before you.
Our mains were chicken and pork – and to say it as flippantly as that is to do the dishes no justice at all. The chicken with asparagus was so moreish I almost ran my finger through the remaining sauce so as not to waste it. The pork with sweet potato and mustard was a similarly stunning array of colours and flavours that were swiftly demolished.
And then the desserts…. generally I find sticky toffee pudding a little over-rated but one spoon from my husband’s plate (for research purposes) left me with order envy. It was exquisite. I do question the inclusion of the popcorn on this dish – looks great but not my personal cup of tea. But then again I never got the Malteasers in the popcorn thing either. Must be just me. Then I tasted my own plate…. and jealousy quickly subsided as I only had eyes for the oozing, melting centre of my warm chocolate fondant. Warm, fudgey chocolate accompanied by an excellent hazelnut ice-cream. What’s not to like?
There was a wine… or truth be told two. A couple of craft beers and a double espresso…. he likes to torment me!!!
The bill came to a reasonable €87 for two. …. I worry that we have set the bar very high for future early bird adventures. But we shall soon see and I will of course keep you posted.